A Step Forward for Harambe

Everyone remembers exactly where they were when they heard the news. For me, it was Derby City Field, Louisville, Kentucky, 4 p.m. I was on crutches, watching my friends get ready for baseball practice the week of the regional championship. May 28, 2016, is a day that will forever live in infamy.

On that fateful day, a young toddler wandered unsupervised through the Cincinnati Zoo. With no parental figures in the vicinity, he stumbled into the gorilla enclosure. The determined boy scaled a three-foot fence, navigated four feet of bushes, and fell 15 feet into a shallow moat surrounding the enclosure. The zookeepers working the enclosure, obviously indifferent to the child’s dire state, quickly motioned for the three gorillas within the enclosure to abandon the struggling boy and come inside. The two female gorillas within the enclosure followed the orders, but a lone hero decided to take matters into his own hands. Harambe ignored his superiors, fully aware of the possible consequences of his blatant disobedience. He did not think of himself, but rather sprung into action to help a child in need. This selfless decision would prove fatal.

Harambe quickly scooped the child from the perilous moat and dragged him to safety. He then held the toddler between his legs while tending to the boy’s injuries. During his rescue, the zoo acted quickly to muster shooters to the scene. By leaving the child alone in the water and pulling Harambe’s primate cousins—the only possible rescuers—from the scene, the child’s life had been endangered. It was Harambe’s insubordination that saved the toddler. But the zoo does not look kindly on animals taking matters into their own hands. They knew their own mishandling of the situation could prove to be a PR disaster, so they decided to eliminate the only witness. Only a day after his 17th birthday, our young hero was gone with one shot. Those of us who know the truth will never forget the tragic day on which we unfairly lost our sweet prince. But the Cincinnati Zoo is already insulting his memory.

In September, the zoo announced that a new male gorilla, Mshindi, had been moved into the enclosure as a replacement, the first since Harambe’s tragic death more than a year earlier. This news sparked national outrage, as millions across the country voiced their disapproval towards the controversial act. Many believe that the zoo is not yet ready to handle a new male gorilla since the shooting of Harambe last year. How can we be sure to protect Mshindi in order to be sure that he does not meet the same fate as his beloved predecessor?

Unfortunately, we cannot offer Mshindi peace of mind. How can we tell a gorilla living in the enclosure of a fallen brother that he is in a safe and secure environment? Nevertheless, Mshindi should be welcomed into the Cincinnati Zoo with open arms. We must not live in fear, we must not back down. If we prevent the further addition of gorillas to the Cincinnati Zoo, then the aggressors have won. We would be sending a message to Harambe’s murderers that his death was a final victory. They may have won the battle, but we cannot allow evil to win the war.

Fear is the tool of aggression. When we back down in response to violence out of fear of future acts of violence, we are playing into the hands of the wrongdoers. If we allow the killing of one gorilla to prevent any other gorilla to live in his place, we have failed Harambe.

We have no reason to think that Harambe will be forgotten; his influence is timeless. Not only will his memorial outside the gorilla enclosure remain standing forever, so too will his impact on this great nation. Harambe will forever serve as a reminder to push back against wrongful attacks on the innocent. Harambe will forever serve as a political and pop culture icon. Harambe will forever serve as a martyr for the rights of the unjustly victimized. In order to truly honor our fallen hero, we must move on and accept Mshindi as the newest member of the Cincinnati Zoo. It’s what Harambe would have wanted.

Image source: Wikimedia/Ltshears

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